It was the final rehearsal of Opera Australia’s production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini’s pre-curtain up announcements presaged something different.
For this performance only, the audience was encouraged to tweet and secondly, they would be allowed to take photos during the final curtain calls. Stepping even further away from convention, the mix of music theatre and operatic voices was amplified and it was performed in English with English surtitles.
Composer Jacques Offenbach teamed up with librettists Hector-Jonathan Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy (co-librettist for Bizet’s Carmen) to thumb their noses at the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice (‘Euri-dyke’ as introduced by Public Opinion – it’s Mardi Gras week). For pure irreverence, you need look no further than Jonathan Biggins and Phil Scott for creating the witty libretto burgeoning with references to current events, and to Biggins for directing it.
The result was a riotous collision of aesthetics in which nothing was sacred. The script was replete with innuendo. Greek columns and goddess gowns jostled with outback corrugated iron sheds and oversized cans of fly spray. The sets shrieked ‘More is more’ – and so did most of the costumes, except for a few of the lesser kind – which left me wishing for more – or should that be less?
Welcome back Suzanne Johnston as Public Opinion! The singers of Opera Australia were no match for Todd McKenney and amplifying the voices exaggerated the discrepancy.
Think Opéra bouffon meets Mel Brooks with a touch of Gilbert and Sullivan. If you like your opera ‘straight’ prepare to be challenged and you will have an evening of laughs.
Orpheus in the Underworld is at the Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House on selected evenings from March 7th to 27th at 7.30pm with a matinee at 1pm on March 2nd.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©